Motivation is an unreliable friend

Meyken Houppermans, PhD. CrossFit Levcel 3 Trainer.
Founder and Head Coach
Is lack of motivation your main struggle in weight loss, exercise and stress management? Learn how to break the cycle of repeatedly failing attempts, to finally reach long lasting results.

The high and the low

Lack of motivation and discipline are important factors behind failed attempts to lose weight, exercise more, manage stress and quit unhealthy habits such as smoking. When we first start an attempt, we feel highly motivated and convinced that this time we will reach our goal. However, it does not take long before daily life kicks in, motivation lowers down to zero, and we quit.

False hope makes us act like a goldfish

For some reason, human being, “suffer” from false hope: We have the tendency to think that the cause of our failed attempts lays within ourselves, because we did not try hard enough. In hindsight we blame ourselves for our failure. The upside of this false hope is that it makes us keep trying, instead of never giving it another try again. Most of us have a history of multiple attempts to reach that same goal.

The downside of false hope is that because we think we did not try hard enough, we keep on doing the same thing in the same manner, leading to the same result over and  over again. We act like goldfish: swimming the same circle over and over again. This cumulation of failed attempts can destroy our self- efficacy*, leading to feelings of helplessness and frustration: A negative downward spiral.

How to develop a positive upward spiral

It’s simple: if we keep doing the same thing, we can expect the same outcome. If we want a different outcome, we need to do things differently. This starts with being aware of two important mental processes that play a major role in our attempts to reach our goals.

1. Be aware of your brain playing with you

The moment we start a new journey to reach our goals, our brain starts playing with us. It makes us feel as if we have already crossed the finish line and reached our  goal. That is why, in the beginning of our journey we feel super excited, energetic, and convinced that this time we will succeed. However, that awesome “high” feeling extinguishes quickly. And then it comes down to our motivation and discipline to keep us going.

Being aware of your brain playing with you and the fact that this “high” feeling will not last forever, helps to develop a more resilient mindset from the start of the  journey: “Ok, I feel super excited right now and that gives me a great kick start. But I know that I need to prepare myself for the next phase, when this feeling extinguishes, and things might become a bit more challenging.” With this resilient mindset, we are more ready and prepared to take on that challenge. With that mindset, we can develop a concrete and realistic plan with steps to take to reach our goal and to tackle obstacles on the way. A reliable plan is like a roadmap we can follow when it starts to rain or storm, when we feel a bit insecure on the road, and when we start to lose track.

2.  Motivation and discipline are unreliable friends

After that “high” feeling is gone, it comes down to our motivation and discipline to keep us going. Now here is the thing with motivation and discipline: We are not born with a ton of it. We do not wake up one day, full of motivation and discipline. We  cannot “find” them somewhere (“I just need to find my motivation again…).  Motivation and discipline are not inexhaustible. Actually they are unreliable friends: You cannot depend on them being there when times get rough.

Motivation and  discipline often come AFTER our actions, not before. The more we stick to our plan, execute our actions, and keep doing what we need to do, the more motivated we will feel. More motivation leads to more self- esteem and  feelings of being in control instead of feeling helpless. More motivation keeps us going, resulting in a cumulation of successful attempts. Voila: the positive upward spiral. 

What now?

So besides developing a concrete realistic plan of action, we need to be aware of the two mental processes that play a major role in our journey. And we need to do that daily, to make it stick. So, the next time you start a new journey to reach a goal, take 10 minutes per day for some introspective writing:

-          Write down your goal (yes, every time) and what makes it worth to change.

-          Write down the small successes you can be proud of instead of on things that did not go as planned.

Create that resilient mindset with 10 minutes per day, stick to your plan and be aware of the two mental processes. Awesome results will follow automatically.

Create your own health!©